The incredible ‘plastic’ teenage brain!
Not long ago, we thought that the erratic teenage behaviour was due to sudden surges in hormones, but modern studies of the brain show us that this isn’t true. During adolescence the brain is going through significant developments and it doesn’t finish maturing until the mid- to late-20s (actually, even after that, no matter how old we are, our brain remains “plastic” – that is adaptable). The front part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, is one of the last brain regions to mature. It is the area that is responsible for planning, prioritizing and controlling impulses. This explains some of the behaviours of a teenager.
As a teenager, some of your behaviours might seem irrational and strange for your parents or even for yourself. It is not uncommon even for very smart adolescents to find themselves doing very stupid things in a very impulsive way – only to regret it later on. However, it all makes perfect sense if we look at it from an evolutionary point of view. Teenagehood has a purpose; It is about moving from being a dependent child into an independent adult. As a teenager you have the urge to move away from the relative security of the family and the parents (but take great comfort in knowing that you can always return to the security). You will be driven towards peers and away from your parents, looking to develop your own sense of self – wanting to explore who you are and what is important to you. You have a desire to discover things for yourself in the outside world. With it all comes an increased drive to take risks – to react impulsively and only later look back and think; what was I thinking!!!
Right now there are three processes happening in your brain that is useful to know about:
Proliferation: Rapid growth of brain matter and the formation of new connections within the brain – everything you think and do will influence how your brain develops.
Pruning: Cutting away of unused or unimportant connections. So, if you stop using some skills or knowledge – eg. playing piano, speak a second language etc. you will simply lose it!!
Myelination: Insulation of brain pathways to make them faster and more stable. It is like the brain is making motorways for certain things that it deems most important because you do it a lot. This is when your habits are growing strong. If for instance you call yourself “stupid and useless” everytime you make a mistake, then you will build a motorway to those words and the emotions that follows. If you, on the other hand, are repeatedly kind to yourself then that will become the default way to treat yourself.
How can we help
So as you can see, teenagehood is the best time to lay healthy mental habits. It is our aim to help you make this challenging developmental period in your life into one of the most rewarding.